Commentary by Jenny Arnold
What is meant by the persecuted church?
What is it?
Where is it?
Who is affected?
It is a phrase that is often bandied about but which we may not pay much attention to from our safe harbour on this emerald jewel set in a sapphire sea as Shakespeare described Britain in Richard II, four hundred odd years ago.
- We enter our places of worship on a Sunday morning freely, hopefully joyfully in our green and pleasant lad.
- We can purchase the Word of God in any number of easy ways and we can also listen or read online at any time of day or night.
- We can pray openly.
- We can evangelise.
- We can sing songs of praise and worship to our God loudly, exuberantly whenever and wherever we choose to do so – out on the street, in the park, in our homes and sometimes even (still) in our schools, colleges and Universities.
- Religious programmes are broadcast on TV and on the radio.
- We have specialised Christian radio stations broadcasting openly without fear of being shut down or raided by some state enforcement agency.
- We have Christian magazines and other publications – all available to whomsoever wishes to purchase.
- We have an absolute abundance of Christian literature dating back hundreds of years, again freely available to purchase and read; as much as you wish, at any time you choose.
Wow! Have you ever stopped to think just how much freedom we have to embrace the Good News of the Gospels?
- To remember Christ’s suffering for us freely and openly by the representations of bread and wine or juice.
- How free we are to sit in the comfort of our own homes and read the amazing volume of Christian literature given to us by the Saints.
- To sing praises any time, and anywhere.
- To read the Bible in our own mother tongue and in a multitude of translations.
Well, I hadn’t fully appreciated this incredible freedom until I began to research and read about the Persecuted Church.
So what is it?
The persecuted church can be defined as any member of the body of Christ who lives in fear of persecution, and persecution is defined by the OED as: hostility or mistreatment particularly on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, religion or political views.
Open Door estimate that currently around 340 million Christians are living under persecution and discrimination, and are following Jesus no matter what the cost.
- every day, 13 Christians worldwide are killed because of their faith
- every day 12 churches or Christian buildings are attacked
- every day 12 Christians are unjustly arrested or imprisoned and another 5 are abducted
The World Watch List (WWL) lists 50 countries around the globe where Christians are the most persecuted for following Jesus. The 2021 List represents 309 million Christians living in very high or extreme persecution. This figure is up from 260 million in 2020. The list contains another 31 million living in moderate degrees of persecution and harassment.
The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have acted as a catalyst for persecution through relief discrimination, forced conversion, and increased surveillance and censorship.
The top ten persecutors are relatively unchanged with North Korea remaining at number one. Number two is Afghanistan, followed by Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, Nigeria and India.
Sudan left the top ten for the first time in 3 decades following abolition of the death penalty for apostasy and guaranteeing, on paper at east, freedom of religion. However, Open Door researchers have found that Christian women are still subject to sexual violence, and Christians in general face ostracisation from their families, employers and communities.
Possibly, surprising to some, India remains in the top ten for the third year running because it continues to see an increase in the persecution of religious minorities due to government sanctioned Hindu extremism.
Persecution in Africa is on the increase due to Islamic extremism, with Nigeria in the top ten most hazardous countries for Christians to live.
China is included in the top 50 because of increased state surveillance and the arrest of pastors running home churches. Many Christians believe that they have no option but to go ‘underground’ and keep their faith secret.
Of the 50 countries in the WWL top 50, 34 have Islam as the main religion, 4 have Buddhism, 2 have Hinduism, 1 has Atheism, and 1 has Agnosticism, and surprisingly, 10 have Christianity.
In Islamic countries apostasy can mean the death penalty for men, and imprisonment for women with a high incidence of sexual violence towards them. Apostasy is defined as conversion from Islam to Christianity, or can also mean Atheism – the refusal to worship the Prophet Mohammed.
Note: the above figures have been taken from Open Doors website. You can access the details at https://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/world-watch-list/
What does the Word of God tell us about suffering and persecution?
Philippians 1:29, ‘For it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.’
John 16:33, ‘I have said these things to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation but take heart I have overcome the world.’
Romans 8:18, ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that that is to be revealed to us.’
We have Paul’s own testimony of the persecution the emerging Christian Church suffered: 1 Corinthians 4:11-13, ‘In this very hour we go hungry and thirsty. We are in rags. We are brutally treated. We are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless. When we are persecuted, we endure it. When we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.’
Finally, after a powerful and miraculous ministry, which opened up the Gentile world to the Gospel, Paul ended in chains in a cold Roman dungeon forsaken by some of his closest co-workers. From there, he was taken out for public execution by beheading.
Note: Taken from Rules of Engagement by Derek Prince (You can order this book from DPM Ministries https://www.dpmuk.org/product/rules-of-engagement):
When we (I) in the cushioned West think of suffering, we (I) usually think of poor health, perhaps unemployment, an unhappy or broken marriage or relationship, not being able to have what we want when we want it, difficulties with parenting, the loss of a child or other loved person.
We (I) don’t really consider that suffering for our Christian faith could mean losing any kind of employment at all, having to leave our homes and family, not having enough food, being spat at, attacked with violence, and for women sexual degradation and rape, being held in filthy, unheated prison cells, tortured beyond endurance, murdered, watching loved ones suffering beyond our ability to save them or intervene.
But this is the reality for the 340 million in the persecuted church worldwide and as the Word tells us, it is actually to be expected.
I am an avid reader and offer here some of my own recommendations about real-life suffering of real-life Christians we may be able to identify with.
The Hiding Place – Corrie ten Boom
Corrie was raised in a practising Christian family in The Netherlands during the previous century. Following the invasion of Holland by the Nazi Germans in 1941, she, her father and sister devised a small hiding place in their home for the purpose of hiding Jews who were being rounded up and deported to concentration camps for extermination. Betrayed by fellow citizens, Corrie and her sister, and elderly father were sent to a work Concentration camp where her father died.
Miraculously, the sisters were able to smuggle a few scraps of Scripture into the camp barracks. The barracks were infested with fleas and lice but the sisters gave thanks to God for them because it meant the guards would not enter the sleeping areas and so they were able to hold prayer meetings with fellow inmates, read the few Scriptures they had preserved, and bring many women to Christ in that hell hole.
Corrie’s sister died in the camp but Corrie survived and went on to have a powerful ministry of healing at the end of the war. Amen.
If I Perish – Esther An Kim
She stood alone amongst thousands of kneeling people in bold defiance of the tyrannical Japanese who demand them to bow to Shinto gods. This refusal to bow down to any other god but God Almighty condemned her to the filth and degradation of a Japanese prison.
This very young woman stood alone, remained faithful to Christ in the face of starvation, brutality and, oppression and the ruthlessness of her captors – bringing many women in that place to Christ before they were executed.
Give me a Mountain – Dr Helen Rossavere
Born into a middle class High Anglican family, Helen Rossavere made a commitment to Christ at Cambridge University, travelling to the former Congo in Africa (now the DRC) where she setup a hospital and medical training centre before renovating a disused leprosy clinic.
She established another 48 clinics in the country but during the Civil War of the 1960s, she was captured by rebel soldiers and imprisoned and raped. All the clinics and hospitals were destroyed.
Helen later wrote in her book that this experience of suffering shaped her life and ministry for the remainder of her life. She wrote of the sheer privilege of serving Christ through the suffering of rape, beatings and imprisonment.
Even more amazingly, Helen returned to the Congo after her release and a period of recovery in Britain, and rebuilt all the hospitals and clinics that had been destroyed by the rebel soldiers. She trained many Congolese in the care and ministration of those traumatised and injured during the civil war.
The Heavenly Man – Brother Yun
This is the story of how God took a young, half-starved boy from a peasant village in China and placed him on the front line for Jesus. During a life of tremendous religious persecution Brother Yun preached the gospel, enduring years of imprisonment and torture.
He now heads the Back to Jerusalem movement from Germany. The Back to Jerusalem Movement is a Christian Evangelist campaign begun in mainland China by Christian believers to send missionaries to all of the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim countries between China and Jerusalem.
Are we part of the persecuted Church?
Many would say that we are. The name of our God is defiled constantly on television and our Christian celebrations of the birth of Jesus and His death and resurrection have been transformed into pagan nonsense.
However, it is not yet a crime to worship our Lord and we continue to do so openly. We are, at the same time, coming under increasing attack by the LGBTQi community to change Biblical laws and Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism to name a few, have reduced Christianity to a minority in what was previously a Christian majority country.
But it may be coming… We must be prepared to stand with the rest of the Body of Christ for Him and for our faith. Many believe that this time of suffering and persecution is not far off.